ordinary / extraordinary

I.

It is the morning of my high school graduation. I have just woken up and am still lying in bed in my pajamas. I slept in late, and my dog Gar is snoozing at the foot of my bed. My yellow graduation gown hangs on the back of my door, waiting and ready. My brother is at school—the last day of school before summer—but I don’t have to be on campus until the afternoon ceremony. My mom and dad both come into my room and sit on my bed with me. Mom has made breakfast, and soon I will go downstairs and eat scrambled eggs and toast. But, for now—for a few more minutes, at least—I stay in bed. I talk with Mom about last-minute plans for my graduation party this evening. I talk with Dad about the speech I’m giving at the graduation ceremony. The doorbell rings and Gar leaps off my bed, barking. Mom runs downstairs to see who it is, then calls up that I’ve received congratulations flowers from my aunt and uncle. In my stomach I feel a buzzing energy, an excited anticipation, for the day ahead. A day that feels like so much more than just a single day. It holds the weight of all the years leading up to this point, and also the promise of all the years to come. I am on the cusp of adulthood; in a few short months, I will unpack my suitcase into a Los Angeles dorm room and begin a new chapter of my life.

But, for now, I am a girl in her pajamas, in her childhood bedroom, chatting with her parents. It is an extraordinary day, but at the same time, I hold the comforting normalcy of it close to my heart. Somehow, this quiet ordinary time before the excitement of the day unfolds feels like the most special gift of all.

II.

It is four years later: the morning of my college graduation. I wake up in a crowded apartment after hardly sleeping the night before. I was too filled with emotion to sleep. I can’t believe this day is actually here. How did college pass by so quickly?

When I emerge from my bedroom, my roommates are already busy in the kitchen, making coffee and pouring cereal for breakfast. I share this two-bedroom apartment with three of my best friends, and all of us have graduation guests staying here, so our apartment is at max capacity, with people crashing on the couch and sprawled out in sleeping bags on the floor. It feels like a big sleepover, or like the morning after one of our parties—except that everyone is wide-eyed and chipper.

My roommates and I run in and out of each other’s bedrooms and bathrooms, slipping into our graduation dresses, asking for second and third and fourth opinions on shoes and makeup. Time is slipping away—soon, we will need to head out the door and walk the five blocks to campus for the ceremony. But not before we take one final roommate photo. We clump together in the kitchen, before we put our black graduation gowns on over our dresses, and one of our boyfriends snaps the photo. I feel like I am a balloon, floating up above the scene—like this day is too big for me to hold. It feels as if all the adventures and mistakes and laughter and victories and drama and love of the past four years is condensed into this moment, the four of us crowded into our cramped kitchen with our arms slung around each other and our cheeks round with smiles, posing like we’ve posed for countless other photos together.

Soon, we will break apart and scramble to collect our purses and pull our graduation gowns over our dresses. We will help each other zip up our gowns and pin our caps to our hair and then we will walk, arms linked, through a swamped campus to hear Governor Schwarzenegger give our commencement address, and then we will head to our separate satellite ceremonies and celebrate with our own families and loved ones. But, for now, I bask in this ordinary moment, in our ordinary messy apartment—what I think of as the last ordinary moment of our college years together. Here, now, we are not yet college graduates. We are simply four roommates dressed up in pretty dresses who love each other very much.

III.

It is the morning of my bachelorette party, three days before my wedding. In many ways, these morning hours are the final slice of calm before the manic energy of the weekend washes over us. Today, Friday, Allyn and I are heading off to our separate bachelor/bachelorette parties. Tomorrow is the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. And Sunday is the wedding. Everything seems so real all of a sudden, so close. I feel like I am getting onto a roller coaster—all I will be able to do the next three days is hang on and enjoy the ride.

One of my best friends, Erica, takes an early morning flight to SFO for my bachelorette party. She catches the train to my city and I pick her up at the station. The parking lot is filled with commuters, heading into a routine day of work. I feel similar to how I used to feel as a child, when my parents would surprise my brother and me with a trip to Disneyland on an otherwise normal school day. I remember looking out the car window in wonder as we drove the three hours to Anaheim, amazed that the people in the cars around us were oblivious to the magic that was unfolding in my day.

Erica emerges from the station carrying a duffel bag, and I leap out of the car and wave to her. We hug hello maybe a little longer and tighter than normal. All of a sudden, I’m a volcano of words, telling her all about the frantic craziness of the past couple weeks and warning her how much of a disaster my apartment is. In my fantasies about this weekend, I was so incredibly calm and on top of wedding-related things that my apartment was perfectly clean and straightened up. Erica hasn’t seen my apartment yet, and I wanted her to see it at its best. But that was pure fantasy, unrealistic—and unnecessary. Erica has been my friend since seventh grade, and she doesn’t need my fantasy self. My real self is enough for her.

me and erica at her place

So, even though this is not how I imagined it, this feels like the right way for things to unfold: the two of us walking into my messy apartment, stepping over the wedding gifts and favors and decorations that have taken over every spare inch of floor space. I’ve baked muffins for the bachelorette party and they are cooling on the counter, still too hot to pack up into tupperware, and the bags of flour and sugar are out, and the batter-smeared bowl is unwashed in the sink.

Yesterday Erica injured her achilles tendon at the gym, and I move some papers off the couch so she can lay down, putting her foot up and nursing her sore achilles with a bag of iced peas. She exclaims encouragement and we laugh about old memories as I scurry around the apartment, gathering up various bags and items I’ll need over the next few days. Tonight we’re all staying at Dana’s for the bachelorette party, and tomorrow night I’m staying with my parents and brother in their hotel room. I’m not planning to come back to the apartment before the wedding.

Soon, it will be time to leave so we’re not late for the bachelorette festivities. Soon, Erica will climb off the couch and return the bag of peas to the freezer. Soon, I will pack the muffins into tupperware and she will help me carry my bags and veil and wedding dress down to my car.

But, for now, I savor this private little bubble of time with one of my best friends — one of the people who knows me best in the world — who makes me feel calm and centered simply with her presence. For a moment, I feel transported back to our seventh-grade selves. We are still those girls who sat in the grass on the quad eating our brown-bag lunches. We are still those girls, passing notes in class with stick-figure drawings of our dreams. We are still those girls, laughing about our misadventures, and cheering each other on as new adventures approach on the horizon.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” without editing or censoring yourself. Here are some questions you can use as guidance:

  • Write about an ordinary moment from your life that has stuck in your memory.
  • Out of your everyday life, what moments do you treasure the most?
  • Where do you find your “calm in the storm”?

a year of Wooden: week 34

Good morning, everyone! My uncle Frankie just hit the road back down to L.A. after a nice morning of visiting with me and my grandparents over breakfast. Now I’m drinking tea and taking care of some emails/business stuff before heading out to Starbucks for a writing session. {I always get more productive writing done at Starbucks than at home. I crave the background noise and busy atmosphere.} Then I’m hoping to have a gym session this evening!

Before I get moving, time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge! Since Wednesday is the start of October, we’re going to move onto our October challenge this week…

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. In September, we focused on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry.

Last week’s challenge was to read New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver poems

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets — I shared her beautiful poem “The Summer Day” earlier this year as a mid-week meditation — and for this week I’d like to share her poem about one of my favorite things:

The Sunflowers

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young —
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds —
each one a new life! —

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

You all know how much I love sunflowers, so it’s no wonder I was drawn to this poem. At first, I simply reveled in the beauty of the lines and the perfect description of sunflowers — their creaky spines, heavy green leaves, bright faces like “burnished disks.” But as I read the poem through a few times, what I was most left with was a sense of quiet strength, confidence, and hope. I love the lines about “turning their lives/into a celebration” even though this is not an easy task. I think that is a noble task for all of us to attempt!

sunflowers

Now, let’s move onto our challenge for October. This is a reprise of our February challenge, from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Make friendship a fine art. For October, we’re returning to this point, but instead of improving existing friendships, we are going to focus on nurturing new friendships.

This week’s challenge is to reach out to an acquaintance you would like to get to know better, and invite them to do something — coffee, lunch, a movie, etc. Reach out and get to know this person better!

friendship quote

Questions for the day:

  • What is your favorite poem by Mary Oliver?
  • How do you make life a celebration?
  • What new friend will you reach out to this week?

a year of Wooden: week 33

Good morning, everyone! Hope you’re feeling recharged after the weekend! I slept in a little this morning, which felt SO nice after a busy weekend of travel and commitments. Now I’m easing into the day with a hot mug of tea and some pb + banana toast, sprinkled with chia seeds on top for a bit of healthy crunch!

pb banana toast

What do you have going on today? I am hoping to get LOTS of productive work done on my novel. Then, later this afternoon I’m meeting with one of my favorite students for a tutoring session. But for now, time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry.

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. Now, in September, we are focusing on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry.

Last week’s challenge was to read The Soul of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. {Thanks to my brother for letting me borrow his copy!}

Rumi

I love how Rumi’s poems are so wise and filled with imagery and meaning, while also being accessible to the average reader like me. Reading this collection, I felt like my spirit was lifted up. His poems made me feel more in touch with the greater meaning and spirituality of life. It was really difficult to choose just one poem to share, so I ended up narrowing my favorites down to these two short poems:

One Song

What is praised is one, so the praise is one too,
many jugs being poured

into a huge basin. All religions, all this singing,
one song.

The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight
looks slightly different

on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different
on this other one, but

it is still one light. We have borrowed these clothes, these
time-and-space personalities,

from a light, and when we praise, we pour them back in.

I love this poem because it makes me feel hopeful and it celebrates the unity between all of us as living beings. Too often, I think, we focus on our differences. We use those differences as reasons to divide us. But, like the poem says, deep down we are all singing one song, together. I love the metaphor of the same sunlight on different walls. And the end of this poem gives me goosebumps every time.

rumi quote

The Most Alive Moment

The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each

other’s eyes and in what flows
between them then. To see your face

in a crowd of others, or alone on a
frightening street, I weep for that.

Our tears improve the earth. The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,

your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul. Seeing you is a

wine that does not muddle or numb.
We sit inside the cypress shadow

where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.

At the end of this poem, I can’t help but sigh with contentment. I feel a release within me. Do you feel it, too? I think this poem beautifully captures the wonder, refuge and delight of loving another person. I especially love the lines: “To see your face/in a crowd of others, or alone on a/frightening street, I weep for that.” And the ending image of slow growth and understanding is an important one — love not as a lightning bolt in a fickle rainstorm, but something steady and nurturing like a tree.

rumi love quote

This week, I’ll be reading New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver poems

Next week, I’ll share my favorite poem from the collection, and I’d love to hear yours as well!

Questions for the day:

  • What is your favorite poem of Rumi?
  • What makes you feel alive or inspired?

a year of Wooden: week 32

Hi, friends! How are you doing on this marvelous Monday? Hope your week is off to a great start!

Time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry.

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. Now, in September, we are focusing on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry.

Last week’s challenge was to read Good Poems, an anthology of poetry selected by Garrison Keillor.

good poems

There were so many poems I loved in this collection! It’s hard to choose just one to share. But I think I’ll end up going with this one by Tom Hennen, “The Life of a Day”… I really love the message.

The Life of a Day

Like people or dogs, each day is unique and has
its own personality quirks which can easily be seen
if you look closely. But there are so few days as
compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it
would be surprising if a day were not a hundred
times more interesting than most people. But
usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless
they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red
maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly
awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills the lost
traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason
we like to see days pass, even though most of us
claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a
long time. We examine each day before us with
barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been
looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for
the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will
start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly
well-adjusted, as some days are, with the
right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light
breeze scented with a perfume made from the
mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak
leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk.

My favorite sentence in the poem is, “For some reason we like to see days pass, even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a long time.” That line struck me as so honest and true. Why do we behave this way? Why do we like to see the passing of days? One thing I have really been working on lately is enjoying and savoring the ordinary routines of my days. I also like this poem’s message of treating each day as a beautifully unique entity, and to appreciate each and every one you are given!

This week, I’ll be reading The Soul of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.

Rumi

Next week, I’ll share my favorite poem from the collection, and I’d love to hear yours as well!

Questions for the day:

  • What is your favorite poem in Good Poems?
  • Have you ever read poetry by the ancient poet Rumi?

saturday upsides: the small, ordinary pleasures of home

Happy weekend, everyone! It’s time to celebrate Saturday Upsides!

saturdayupsidesbutton

Yesterday, I was reading a lovely collection of short stories, Who’s Irish? by Gish Jen, and I came across this quote about life as a mother and homemaker that really struck a chord with me. Maybe it will for you, too!

whos irish cover
“It was absurd to be made happy by this small shared anticipation. Before the table actually got set, there had to be an argument about whose turn it was. How could this make Pammie happy? But it did, even as it drove her batty. She liked her busy boredom, too, if only because it readied her for the moment when Adam presented Inka with a rattle shaped like a football, or when Phoebe invented her own version of Duck, Duck, Goose: House, House, Home, this was called. You had to be a little bored to have those moments break over you the way they could. But if you sat waiting in a good dark night, they opened and opened like a brand of newfangled fireworks that lit the clouds, and the ground below, too, and all the faces turned upward, then fell with a sparkling rush right into your hands.”

– an excerpt from the story “House, House, Home” from the collection Who’s Irish by Gish Jen

I treasure the small, ordinary moments of life at home with those I love!

What are your upsides this weekend?